Monday, November 25, 2013

Turkey Love

The first of our houseguests arrived Sunday night; a family of four that make me thankful for the blessing of good friends.

More houseguests arrive tonight and then more on Wednesday; the kind that make me thankful for family who are willing to fly and fight traffic to celebrate the upcoming holiday in my home.

We are bursting at the seams with love, good cheer and children who can't get enough of each other.

There's already so much that makes me thankful. On top of that, I get to play cookie crafting with three little girls and one little boy while we make our favorite edible Thanksgiving turkey placeholders.

Maybe, just maybe, if I get really lucky, the children will be convinced to put on a classic skit about the first Thanksgiving with Pilgrims meeting the Indians capped, of course, by a grand finale rendition of Albuquerque He's My Turkey.

I've copied the lyrics case any of you aren't familiar with this Thanksgiving gem. It's sung to the tune of Darling Clementine; and if it's reproduced over your Thanksgiving table, that will be one more thing that makes me smile.

Albuquerque he's my turkey,
And he's feathered and he's fine.
And he wobbles, and he gobbles,
And he's absolutely mine.

He's the best pet you can ever get,
Better than a dog or cat.
Albuquerque, he's my turkey,
And I'm awfully glad of that.

Albuquerque, he's my turkey,
He's so cozy in his bed,
Because for our Thanksgiving dinner,
We had scrambled eggs instead.
Happy Thanksgiving. Here's hoping each of yours is filled with joy.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Solo Time

The kids are I are flying solo this week so here is my list of top ten things that happen when I'm the only grown-up in the house.

1. Kid food: Pizza. Chicken and Dumplings. Burritos. All eaten at a much more kid-friendly hour than dinners normally take place Chez Garth.

2. TV: On a weeknight!! *gasp* And even more gaspworthy, I sat down and watched Total Drama AllStars too so I wouldn't feel so left out of my children's conversations.

3.  Thermostat at Seventy-Eight: What? It's chilly in Virginia. Plus we have all these big windows. Seventy-eight lets us pretend we live in Hawaii.

4. Bright Lights: The entire house lit up like a Christmas tree. Not that the kids and I are afraid of the dark or anything. It's just, you know, extra dark out here in suburbia. Besides, lights in winter feel cozy and do a great job of scaring away monsters and murderers.

5. Loud Music: Another important factor for scaring away monsters and murderers. Plus it's fun. And somebody on the block should be the weird family who dances around in their PJs.

6. Trash TV: Pretty Little Liars after my kids are in bed. Don't judge me!

7. Texting and Tweeting: While I watch the aforementioned trash TV. No, I'm not a teenager. Why do you ask?

8. Queen of the Bed: It's king size. I'm the size of a seventh grader, but that doesn't hinder my ability  to commandeer the whole thing. My husband frowns on this. When he's gone, I indulge.

9.  No Bedtime: I'm a night owl. My husband is an early bird. When I'm flying solo I don't feel bad about staying up late to dig into something literary, which has the added benefit of counteracting my trifecta binge of Trash TV, texting and tweeting.

10. Of course, the best part about being solo is that it has an expiration date. See how I cheated there? Couldn't quite come up with a full list of ten. But I think, to quote Martha Stewart, that's a good thing.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Email Bombs and Dog Crates

Every now and then I open my inbox and find a small explosion waiting for me. On Friday, I was cc'd on one of those bomb-type messages. It was a response, drafted by my husband, to our son's third grade teacher who is darling, sweet, very sincere and possibly not yet of legal drinking age.

Below, for your edification, follows the email exchange that blew up my Friday inbox

From: Darling, sweet teacher
To: Parents

I am seeing improvements in [your son's] behavior.  He started to get a little bit goofy yesterday morning but after some redirection he fixed his behavior.  He likes to get out of his seat a lot to chat with other students at inappropriate times.  This is something I am going to continually work on with him and if you can reinforce this at home, that would be great!  Overall, I think he did a nice job so far this week and I look forward to seeing more and more improvements every day!  Thanks so much for your support!

[My son? Chatty!?! You're all shocked, I'm sure!]

From: Husband, aka email terrorist
To: Darling, sweet teacher

Sure thing. We will continue to use appropriate methods to facilitate behavior improvement. You know, some methods include removing screen time or taking away Halloween candy and desserts. Sometimes the preferred techniques include electroshock treatment or handcuffing them to the radiator. I would lock him in the dog carrier we bought to transport his and his sister's hamsters from Oregon, but he actually enjoys hanging out in that container. So, I guess I'll have to come up with something else. 
I was joking of course, all except for the part about the dog carrier. 

Later in the day my husband called from the busy world of meetings and important goings-on that preclude him from making daily pick-up and drop-off appearances at our children's school.

Him: Any word from the teacher?

Me: I'm not speaking to you!

Him: What? It was funny. She'll know I'm kidding.

Me: The principal wears a suit every day. This is not Portlandia.

Him: It was good stuff!

Me: On the subject of dog crates...I hope our son isn't the only one who likes them.

I know what the women who read this blog are thinking, but as a good friend of mine likes to say when her husband indulges in inappropriate dinner party conversation, "Sorry ladies, you can't have him. He's ALL mine."

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Learning Curves

In the early years of my marriage, I was too busy putting in long hours at Big Law to cook. On the rare event I did, the smallest things were major productions. Tomato soup that took three trips to the grocery store and required multiple re-readings of the recipe.

'Should the garlic be sliced or diced and does it matter?'

'What, exactly, is a rapid simmer?!?'

At that time, my husband did most of the cooking. It wasn't something that came naturally to him either. There was,  memorably, the time he prepared breaded veal and instead of flour it was breaded with powdered sugar.

"They're both white, powdery substances in canisters! How am I supposed to tell the difference?"

During those years we ate a lot of take-out. It was both easy and preferable to sugared veal.

Somewhere, in the year after Child #1 was born, I decided cooking was important. Like everything that catches my attention, I threw myself into this pursuit with a whole-hearted passion; purchasing a little wheelie bag for groceries and wandering the streets of Manhattan in search of good produce and better bread.

By the time we arrived in Portland I was in the formative stages of a dinner party obsession.

It started small. I'd have one family over and cook something from a trusted source. Small soon morphed into complicated calculations about how many people I could squeeze around the dining room table, menus pulled from the pages of Bon Appetit and days spent creating seasonally-themed table settings.

Like anything else, it was a learning curve. What felt exciting and overwhelming soon turned into the routine. I was able to put together a dinner party for twelve, themed table d├ęcor and kitchen-tested menu with the same amount of thought that used to go into that starter tomato soup recipe.

Predictably, as soon as they became easy, my passion for big, fancy dinner parties dimmed. Which isn't to say I don't still enjoy cooking and entertaining, but experience has made me simultaneously more experimental and casual.

Guests to my home might get some kind of seafood dish I've decided to recreate after trying it once at a restaurant or a homey lentil soup. I think it's the kind of entertaining that comes out of the confidence borne from all those hours in the kitchen and a track record of many successful dinner parties.

I was thinking about my culinary arc this week because a writer friend of mine was plagued by the kind of self-doubt all creative people experience from time-to-time.

Those slightly awkward, self-conscious dinner parties where I desperately wanted everything to be perfect, the outright failures scraped into the trash and the reasonably good, if not memorable meals were all part of the learning curve that led to my current place of kitchen confidence.

Simple fare or Gourmet magazine, now it doesn't really matter because my time spent in the kitchen has given me the gift of knowing it's all going to be good...and even if it isn't, there's always take-out.

Comfortable confidence borne from years of success, failure and everything in between. It's a great place to be. And it's absolutely the curve I'm still negotiating when it comes to the tricky business of stringing words together and creating books.

The good news is the kitchen has taught me that place exists. With enough practice, I'm certain I'll meet all my writer friends at that mythical place which is the roller coaster-top of the writing learning curve.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Core, Center and Community

Sometimes the themes in real life, like books, are only apparent in retrospect.

Last week's theme was packaged for me by my yoga instructor who summed it all up at my Sunday morning yoga class (my version of religion) by instructing us to find our center. Not just our center, but our core. For anyone who's done any kind of exercise in the last ten years, you know this is a reference to abdominal muscles, but she took it a step further and asked us to think about the core of our beliefs.

What centers us? From where, what or whom do we draw our strength?

As I moved through the yoga asanas, downward dog, upward dog, way too long in plank pose, it occurred to me the core of my being is centered in community.

This week my kids had two days off of school for parent-teacher conferences and so, grudgingly, I decided to take those two days off of writing. We visited museums. Had lunch out. I let them drink soda. It was marvelous.

It was community.

My friendships; the new ones I'm growing in Virginia, like tiny seedlings poking out of the ground, the ones I arrived here with that are fully grown with deep, deep roots and the virtual ones I've created on-line.

Again, community. The kind that makes me feel strong and connected to the world in a way that fills me with the passion required to lock myself away and write hundreds of thousands of words. And then rewrite them. And then rewrite them again. And again and again and again.

The concept of community was highlighted earlier in my week (I told you it was a theme) when I went to a Baptist church in downtown Washington, D.C. to hear Nadia Bolz-Weber speak about her brand of faith. Her words about people who stumble into her church and stay for the community struck a note with me.

I believe we're all in search of one brand of community or another.

Whether it's family, religion, yoga, friends or a mishmash created from all of the above, somewhere inside each of us is a strong desire to connect on a level that delves below the surface.

Which I suppose leads to the obvious question. Where is your center? What fills you up with passion and floats you through life?

Monday, November 4, 2013

Minecraft Marriage

Like so many things, it all started innocently. In fact, the beginning was adorable.

"Mom, I'm in love," my son said a few weeks ago after school.

"Oh, how sweet," I said then added, "what's her name?"

"I can't remember, but she's got beautiful blonde hair and blue eyes."

Since that initial declaration of love my son has a) found out her name and b) talked about this little girl almost every day. He loves everything about her, including her take-charge manner when it was her turn to assign classroom chores.

"She doesn't just say, 'you're on compost duty,' she says 'You! You're compost.' Like we're actually made out of compost." He punctuated this statement with a giggle.

"Did you want to be compost?" I asked and he assured me he did.

That's sort of the way things have gone. Daily snippets about the beautiful, blondie-blonde. And it was all absolutely adorable until last week when we were walking home and I happened to tune into my children's discussion about Minecraft, the world-building video game with which they are both completely obsessed.

My son, as he usually does, was doing most of the talking.

"And so I built this house were I live with my don't know why I said that, because we're not really married, but someday we might be because she knows how to act like a really good wife."

My ears perked up and luckily, instead of being forced to ask the obvious question, my daughter asked it for me.

"How does someone act like a really good wife?"

"You know, they look really pretty. And whenever she wants something she comes and asks me for money. Sometimes I leave it out for her on a little table that I built in our house."

My daughter, as though she had direct access to the questions percolating in my brain said, "Why doesn't she have her own money? And most wives do more than shop, you know! Is she smart? Because that's just as important as being pretty."

Because my son was born in this century he knew, instinctively, that he'd said something wrong and began to backtrack. "She's very smart. And she has her own money, but I just like to give her mine. You know, if she wants to buy something fancy."

"That!" said my daughter who saves every penny that comes her way and will soon have enough chipmunked away for a down payment on a nice pied a terre in Paris, "is just weird! It's probably the weirdest thing I've ever heard!"

"You're right," he said. "It is weird. Let's change the subject."

And with those three little sentences I realized that, while my daughter and I might need to work on redefining his version of the perfect wife, we've already given him the verbal skills necessary to someday, make someone, an amazing husband!